Suspended Chesterfield County sheriff appears before Columbia ju - WBTW-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Florence, SC

Suspended Chesterfield County sheriff appears before Columbia judge for bond hearing

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Suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker sits with his attorney in Columbia during his arraignment hearing Suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker sits with his attorney in Columbia during his arraignment hearing
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COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) - Suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker appeared before a judge in Columbia for an arraignment hearing Friday morning, stemming from a recent State Grand Jury indictment.

Judge Casey Manning held the hearing inside the Richland County Courthouse.

Manning issued a $150,000 PR bond on Parker.

SC Attorney General Alan Wilson's office announced Tuesday that the State Grand Jury returned indictments against Parker involving four counts of misconduct in office and two counts of furnishing contraband to inmates.

The indictments allege that since Parker took office as Sheriff in 2003, that he gave two inmates special privileges, used property purchased for the Sheriff's Office on his own property and sold confiscated firearms to non-law enforcement personnel.

Wednesday morning, Governor Nikki Haley suspended Sheriff Parker, pending the outcome of the AG's Office's investigation.

During Friday's hearing, SC Assistant Deputy Attorney General Heather Weiss told the court that Parker's treatment of two inmates went well beyond acceptable limits.

Weiss detailed additional events not listed in the indictments, where she said Parker allowed the two inmates in question, to wear clothing from the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office.

In fact, Weiss said that the inmates never wore typical uniforms and were often mistaken for CCSO personnel.

Weiss also said that Parker had the two inmates help with a Halloween party in which they dressed up as ghosts and even helped in trick-or-treating activities.

In addition, Weiss detailed what she said was Parker's misuse of county equipment, including an aluminum boat that she said Parker outfitted for shrimping expeditions.

Weiss said that the boat was never even used by the CCSO, but was serviced several times for saltwater-related issues, after which she noted the obvious lack of saltwater anywhere near Chesterfield County.

"It's not that we're targeting anybody, the people are making their own choices and we just take the evidence as it's brought to us and present it to the grand jury," Weiss said of the case against Parker.

Parker's attorney, Johnny Gasser, said that his client has not violated any laws, but instead simply confused regulations and said he felt that Parker's innocence would be proven in court.

"The whole story is a lot more complicated than simply what's been written in a 19-page indictment, it's a lot more complicated than that," Gasser said.

"We are adamant that Sam Parker never knowingly and willfully committed a crime. That's our position now that will continue to be our position," he continued.

Gasser asked that Judge Manning consider allowing certain special conditions for Parker's bond, including him being allowed to keep one gun in his household and be allowed to travel outside of South Carolina.

Gasser said that the firearm was needed because of the attention given to Parker's case, the safety of his family and the rural location of his home.

He asked that Parker be allowed to travel out-of-state, noting Chesterfield County's border with North Carolina and saying that Parker regularly traveled to both states.

Judge Manning said he would take all of the matters under advisement before making any final decisions.

The first series of allegations involve inmate Michael Lee, who was convicted of felony arson and sentenced to a 15 year prison term. On March 15, 2007, Lee was transferred to the Chesterfield County Detention Center under the "Designated Facilities Program" and placed in the custody of the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office.

The indictments allege that during that time, Lee was allowed to live and sleep, often unsupervised, outside of the confines of the CCSO and within a dormitory-like environment at the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Armory.

The indictments also allege that Lee had keys to the armory, the entrance gate and Sheriff's Office vehicles and that he was able to posses non-permissible items such as televisions, clothes, drugs, alcohol, a photo ID obtained from the Chesterfield DMV, a refrigerator, grill, and an iPad.

The indictments also allege that Lee had unlimited visitations with family and friends, at least one female visitor for the purpose of sexual relations, was able to dine out at restaurants, took shopping trips, had cash, credit and debit cards and a private bank account and allege that on-duty Sheriff's deputies either took him to the bank during business hours or ran errands on his behalf.

The counts also included allegations that Lee had personal mail delivered to him at the Sheriff's Office or armory, that he was able to participate in social functions across Chesterfield County, used the internet for email, Facebook and other site, wore personal clothing, attended church services outside of the designated facility, ate meals at Sheriff Parker's home with and without other law enforcement, went on recreational activities with the Sheriff and his family, spent the holidays with them and also traveled in a private aircraft piloted by a Sheriff's Deputy to Mount Pleasant for a family visit.

The indictments allege that in return for this special treatment, Lee, who was a trained engineer, refurbished the Sheriff's Armory, worked at Sheriff Parker's home and on his personal property, gave gifts to Parker's family, prepared meals for Parker and his family and assisted Parker and his wife with decorating and cooking for private parties.

Lee remained in custody at the CCSO until August 17, 2012 when, at the request of Parker, he was returned to the SC Department of Corrections.

The indictments also detail interactions with inmate William Skipper, who was convicted of felony drug trafficking and given a seven year sentence.

The AG's Office alleges that Skipper also went unsupervised for a portion of time, also had access to the armory, had items which were not allowed for inmates and even drove Sheriff's Office vehicles and had access to firearms.

The indictments allege that Skipper also had unsupervised visits, was able to dine out and go on shopping trips, and enjoyed some of the same privileges as inmate Lee, such as sharing meals and holiday time with Parker and his family.

The counts allege that in return for his treatment, Skipper, who was a licensed General Contractor and HVAC repairman, designed and refurbished the Sheriff's Armory, purchased HVAC equipment (with Chesterfield County funds) and performed repairs throughout the County on behalf of Sheriff Parker.

The indictments also allege that Skipper performed work at Sheriff Parker's home and on his property, built a recreational building for Parker at his home and even made trips around the state and in North Carolina, as did Inmate Lee.

The charges against Parker also involve property that the AG's Office alleges was misused, including an aluminum boat, motor and trailer that was purchased from the South Carolina Federal Property Agency by the Sheriff's Office for $2,200.

The indictments allege that instead of the boat being used solely for Sheriff's Office operations, that Parker instead outfitted it as a shrimp boat and eventually traded it at Allan's Marine in Florence for credit for an outboard Evinrude motor, with a balance of $6,549.55 paid by Chesterfield County and signed for by Parker.

The charges also allege that Parker used other county machinery for personal use, including a John Deere farm vehicle known as a "Gator," a five-ton military truck, an enclosed trailer and a four-wheeler.

The indictments also allege that Parker maintained a roster of deputies purported to be Class I officers who are no longer on payroll and do not work regular hours, but were still referred to as "Reserve Officers" in documentation Parker provided to the SC Criminal Justice Academy.

Those officers did not undergo necessary training or certification, but were still allowed to wear sheriff's office uniforms and badges and patrol the area, according to the indictments.

The AG's Office also alleges that Parker had access to firearms which were seized and/or forfeited to his office, and on multiple occasions, provided those firearms to non-law enforcement personnel for private, non-duty related reasons.

The firearms included an M-14 semi-automatic rifle, an XM-15 Bushmaster rifle, a Remington Model 700 sniper rifle, a Browning .22 handgun, a Glock model 21 .45 semi-automatic handgun and a Glock .40 pistol.

An attorney representing Parker told News13 that the allegations are baseless and that Parker's innocence will be proven in a court of law.

"We knew there was a grand jury investigation but we didn't expect the indictment to come about," said Parker's attorney, Johnny Gasser said during a phone interview Tuesday evening.

 "We deny all of the allegations, Parker is an innocent man, these allegation are based on lies and/or misleading statements, or misapplication of the law, and we look forward to proving his innocence in an objective court," Gasser continued.
 
"He has served SC for 40 years risking his life multiple times and the way he is being treated is a travesty and when the truth comes out, the state will be outraged," he said.
 
The misconduct offense is a common law misdemeanor, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The contraband offense is a statuary felony punishable up to ten years in prison and/or a fine at the discretion of the court.

The case will be prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office.

Attorney General Wilson stressed all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.

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